The Chinese military is ramping up massive military exercises in the South China Sea intended to brush back the United States as the Biden administration pleads with the Taliban to bring Americans back home from Afghanistan.
People's Liberation Army Navy forces are conducting drills in the South China Sea, Yellow Sea, and Bohai Strait near Korea until Thursday. The intense war drills come shortly after another set of military exercises off the coast of Taiwan intended to help China achieve "supremacy" in a potential showdown with the United States and Taiwan, and in response to recent activity in the South China Sea, according to one former Chinese colonel.
Lawmakers and experts say combative messaging around the exercises from China's military brass shows an increasingly relentless attitude from Beijing when it comes to seizing Taiwan. Brent Sadler, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former naval officer, told the Washington Free Beacon the war drills show the Chinese Communist Party is not just saber-rattling but also preparing for a conflict in the coming years.
"The timing of them may be normal, but the intensity and coordination of them are different," Sadler said of the exercise. "China is setting the battlefield for a fight if it should happen in this six-year period that it can fight on its terms. There's an urgency with that where we should similarly be setting the stage for more favorable conditions with our allies."
China's demonstrations come as President Joe Biden directs his national security team to focus on Afghanistan, where thousands of Americans are stuck behind Taliban lines. Though Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting Asia to engage allies on how to team up against Beijing, Chinese survey ships are already directly intruding into territory belonging to countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia. China also conducted another set of military exercises near Taiwan earlier in August, as well as a separate drill with Russian troops. The United States in turn is conducting its own annual maritime exercises with India, Australia, and Japan next week.
Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Martin Meiners told the Free Beacon the Pentagon has no issue with the Chinese naval exercises.
"The Department does not have an issue with military exercises as a normal function of military organizations," Meiners said. "All countries need to be transparent and communicate their military exercises via the appropriate international channels to avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation. We believe compliance with international laws, rules, and norms will lead to more predictable and stable relationships. We urge the PRC to exercise restraint and not undertake military activities that could threaten freedom of navigation or undermine peace and stability in the region."
China, however, is co-opting similar language about transparency and international norms to justify its military actions. Former People's Liberation Army instructor Song Zhongping said the drill shows that China is prepared to fight at "any moment" to safeguard national sovereignty. Such remarks are a call to action for lawmakers and experts, who say the Biden administration must move quickly to fully fund defense programs in the Pacific or suffer at the hands of an emboldened China.
"They are replicating some of our language about this," former rear admiral Mark Montgomery, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said of China. "[The administration's rhetoric] has got to be matched by equally clear signaling in our deterrence and modernization efforts."
The Biden administration so far has shown minimal support for some of the programs defense professionals say are the most important to deter China. The Pacific Deterrence Initiative—a program that proffers missile defense systems, warships, and other technologies to defend the U.S. territory of Guam and keep a forward presence in the region—received about $1 billion less than the military requested from the Biden administration. The White House also cut the shipbuilding budget, slowing down the Navy's ability to grow a force to compete with China.
Rep. Rob Wittman (R., Va.), the vice ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Free Beacon that Biden's budget and Pacific strategy send the wrong message to Beijing.
"We're well behind where we need to be in keeping up with the Chinese," Wittman said. "If we're serious about having a Navy that can compete with the Chinese, we've got to get up to where the Trump administration left off. I do believe that the window in which the Chinese will pursue an opportunity to take Taiwan is much sooner than anticipated. The signals that are being sent by the Biden administration are dangerous ones, and ones that unfortunately could make China pursue the effort to take Taiwan."